Time for regional newspapers to unbundle content and turn their back on mass media to help keep journalists in a job

For most of their lives, regional newspapers have bundled content together and thrown it into their products, like chucking paint at a wall.

Should regional newspapers be looking at another way of making money than the tired newspaper/web combination?

Should regional newspapers be looking at another way of making money than the tired newspaper/web combination?

The idea was/is to satisfy all of their customers at once by putting content together from all walks of life, on numerous subjects from a variety of places, in the hope that readers will find comfort from a couple of articles per edition.

This culture was adopted by local newspaper web sites. Lob as much content at the site in the hope of grabbing some readers.

However, there has been little thought to putting these web sites together in terms of content. It has been little more than copy what the newspapers do, bundle it all together.

In fact there has been little thought as to whether the newspaper/web site alliance works together at all.

There is also evidence that people don’t trawl through the web site looking for what they want, why would you if you can do a Google search?

This method of bundling content together is outdated. It has been exposed with the advent of the web because the untold secret is that the majority of people only really read a small proportion of a newspaper and now the same can be said of the web site.

This is one of the reasons for the decline of newspaper sales, the formula doesn’t work for today’s consumers. I often talk about the concept of the end of mass media and the rise of personal media.

Readers simply choose exactly what they want by going to certain web sites or downloading the apps with the content that interests them. They don’t want a mishmash of content which they can’t or won’t navigate through, they don’t have time to sort out the gems of content they are looking for.

Effectively, if they were reading a newspaper they would be binning most of the pages and keeping the one or two pages which have something they may be interested in.

This is also reflected in the number of web pages people visit on regional newspaper sites. If you hit above two to three pages per unique user you are doing well.

So is the model for regional newspapers of a paper and web site the wrong one? Well, audience is growing on these web sites, but the plateau may not be that far away.

They will get their spikes with the odd great story or well-constructed web bait, but is this enough to keep the cash rolling in?

We already know that the Mail Online and The Sun are not hitting the revenue required online to prop up the falling print revenues, the same can be said in the regionals, however the accountants attempt to cover up the cracks.

Web advertising income is up, but that’s inevitable as the print income falls and the newspaper groups throw the kitchen sink at trying to sell online, sometimes even prepared to lose print revenue, just to prove a point.

Just look at Local World’s latest figures. The report boasts of a £43.6m profit. But, as a friend of mine points out, once you remove what the shareholders take off the firm and other costs the profit is just more than £11m.

Then look at the digital revenues, up 22 per cent to £24.6m, the press release screams, but print revenues saw an 8pc decline to…just (just?!)£131.5m, but still generated almost 60pc of the group’s overall revenues of £221m.

Sorry, I digress. Delivering content is now about delivering to a targeted audience. These readers maybe small in number, but they will be profitable for advertisers attempting to reach the readers directly.

I’m sure advertisers are unhappy with the thought that many of their adverts are presently seen by thousands of people who live…across the sea…

So rather than concentrating content online, why not in a dozen or more apps? I’ve already spoken about how health stories are not seen as good for engagement on the web or social media, but the term ‘health’ is too general.

Are all stories about cancer, pregnancy or your local hospital really read by so few people? The answer is no.

So what kind of apps you may ask? In city ‘A’ 12,000 children a year need pre-school education. If all the mums and dads sign up to an education app, financed and paid for by the education authority, plus ads sold on the app to a targeted audience, surely this would work as a business model?

Add a further dozen of these apps for things such as pregnancy, eating out, local shopping and suddenly you have unbundled the news to satisfy your readers and advertisers can be assured that they are hitting a local audience head-on, not from across the sea.

For those who are wondering how their newspapers can be filled, a selection of the app content can be put into the newspaper and dveloped, if required.

OK, I accept this is not a perfect solution but what it allows is for the old newspaper/web business to be more attractive to the modern consumer.

Unbundling content is the way forward. Just think of what all of you do every day. You choose to look at certain web sites and apps looking for certain content.

Regional newspapers and newspaper web sites don’t offer this luxury. Like a teenager on their first date they have been fumbling around for too long looking for a magic formula. They now need to grow up and look for a better/different business model, the lives of so many people depend on it.

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